Everyday household devices, including smart speakers, doorbell cameras, TVs, and even washing machines, are discovered to be collecting and sharing private information with major tech companies like Google, Amazon, Facebook, and TikTok.
This revelation comes from research conducted by Which? The data appears to be used for targeted advertising on smartphones and other devices, raising concerns about privacy and data security.
Excessive Data Collection by Google Nest Products
Google Nest smart home products, such as security cameras, smart speakers, doorbell cameras, and heating control systems, were found to collect a significant amount of location information from users who connect via smartphones using the Android operating system.
In contrast, these same Nest products collect significantly less information when connected via Apple’s iPhones.
The reasons behind this additional data collection remain unclear, but it raises questions, especially considering Google’s primary business focus on advertising and marketing, while Apple focuses on hardware.
Smart Speakers and Their Data Collection
Smart speakers, designed to respond to voice commands, are supposed to activate only when prompted by users.
However, these devices sometimes collect more data than expected.
For instance, Bose smart speakers share user data with Meta, the parent company of Facebook.
Ezviz smart cameras and doorbells, available from major retailers like Argos, have extensive tracking software, sharing information with companies such as TikTok, Pangle (a video advertising platform), Huawei, Google, and Meta.
Most smart cameras and doorbells also connect to parent companies like Amazon.
Opting Out of Data Collection
While consumers can opt out of data collection, doing so often requires adjusting settings, which may affect the functionality of the device or app.
Smart TVs, in particular, display personalized advertisements in their menus.
LG, Samsung, and Sony offer an “accept all” button for tracking, bundling user data into this option.
Some washing machine brands, like LG, Hoover, and Miele, request extensive user data, including contact information and precise location.
Consumer Concerns and GDPR
A survey by Which? revealed that consumers are most concerned about their contacts and background location being shared, followed by photos, phone numbers, and precise location.
Under the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR), companies are required to be transparent about the data they collect and use.
However, consumers often find the reasons for data collection too vague, with companies citing “legitimate interests.”
Which? policy director Rocio Concha emphasized the need for companies to collect only necessary data and communicate this clearly to consumers.
Manufacturers argue that they are transparent about data use and that the collected data is used to improve their devices and services.
Google and Amazon both state that they comply with privacy laws, provide transparency to users regarding data collection, and prioritize customer privacy and security.
Call for Improved Guidelines
Which? suggests that the Information Commissioner’s Office should consider updating guidelines to better protect consumers from inadvertently sharing extensive personal data.
The concern is that users may unknowingly provide large amounts of data due to unclear terms and conditions.
In conclusion, the research findings highlight the need for greater transparency and control over the data collected by household devices, especially when it comes to tech giants and their extensive data gathering practices.